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Mo Wax?

March 2, 2012

Here’s yet another example of the clueless nature of newspaper fashion reporting from a serial offender, The Guardian with a reponse from their Comment Is Free platform from myself as self-elected ‘fashion authority.’

http://www.guardian.co.uk/commentisfree/2012/mar/01/barbour-city-kids?INTCMP=SRCH

Barbour jackets were once the preserve of the country set; sported by Tatler readers on fishing or hunting expeditions. But now younger, urban-based customers are buying into the brand, and I’m one of them.

When I bought my Barbour-style jacket in Leeds in 2009 I returned to the office to be told I looked like Jack Sugden from Emmerdale. The ridicule followed me to the local football club, pub and even on holidays in Spain where friends dubbed me cazapatos, the duck hunter.

Even before Karl Lagerfeld’s Chanel show in 2009, which had an agriculture theme and starred Lily Allen sitting in a barn, Barbour was established as the jacket of choice for hipsters. Kate Moss and Alexa Chung wore them to Glastonbury in the same year and now Barbour-style jackets are all over the high street and on Asos.

It’s easy to scoff at the “Hackney farmers” for buying into yet another ridiculous hipster trend. But the brand has become popular beyond the world of Dalston Superstars. Real people like the brand too. Now there’s more chance of someone asking me where I got my jacket than asking me how the lambing season is going.

Quilted, waxed, traditional green, sleek black, bright pink, however they come, Barbour jackets have proved so popular that the company recorded an increased turnover of £123m last year, up around £30m from 2010. Traditional fans have begun to mutter about what happened to Burberry in the mid-noughties when it became synonymous with “chav culture” rather than luxury chic and its traditional fashion base disappeared and sales plummeted. It took an expensive rebranding exercise featuring Mario Testino and Emma Watson to revive its elitist edge.

But Barbour is more open to its new customer base, providing alternative (more youthful) colours to its range. There’s even talk of a more extensive fashion range being developed at its South Shields base in the north east.

So for all the ridicule, the trend has at least led to a revival which is bolstering a UK-based company with a workforce in one of the most economically challenging areas of the country.

There’s a school of thought that says in times of austerity people look up to how the other half live, by watching programmes like Downton Abbey or buying brands like Burberry, Barbour or “luxury items” and at least looking like you can afford to splash out. Barbour’s success is in part down to that aspirational drive, but it’s also down to working-class shoppers putting aside its image of toff chic and making it their own. Barbour is succeeding where Burberry went wrong by inviting everyone to wear one of its jackets rather than vainly trying to limit them to just an elite few.

Swine response

Lanre Bakare asks us to engage in the ‘Burberry/chav’ element of his article, so here goes……
“There’s a school of thought that says in times of austerity people look up to how the other half live, by watching programmes like Downton Abbey or buying brands like Burberry, Barbour or “luxury items” and at least looking like you can afford to splash out. Barbour’s success is in part down to that aspirational drive, but it’s also down to working-class shoppers putting aside its image of toff chic and making it their own. Barbour is succeeding where Burberry went wrong by inviting everyone to wear one of its jackets rather than vainly trying to limit them to just an elite few.”

This ‘school of thought’ is just the lazy self-fulfilling cod sociology of journalists . The ratings success of Downton Abey coincides with the worst recession for a generation and therefore, ‘austerity chic’ is born – the simple escapism of cheap nostalgia and phoney celeb/rich kid glamour. This is just a handy journalistc fallacy to fuel a zillion filler articles or grease advertising contracts under the guise of serious reportage.

The jump from retro-toff tv programmes to people feeling aspirational and buying Barbour and ‘luxury items’ is what this entire piece is hung upon and it’s tenuous to say the least. Granted there are many consumers who do indeed buy into the ‘designer brand’ exclusivity of expensive labels but the casuals were never part of that. I’m blowing my cover now because I wrote the book ‘Casuals’ and this myth of working class aspirationalism was one of the mainreason I wrote the book.

What became known as ‘Casual’ coincided with Thatcherism but it had a long and complex history dating way back to 77/78 before that term was coined by lazy hacks who had completely ignored this terrace fuelled movement for 5 or 6 years.

Barbour and ‘country’ brands became massive in the early to mid 80s as did yachting and mountaineering labels, not because those who wore them aspired to be jet set movers n’ shakers but because casuals were primarily aesthetes. If they were simply interested in showing off and buying into the consumerist mantra of monetarism, they would’ve worn Versace not Massimo Osti.

Then again they wore Peter Storm and Berghaus and Helly Hansen and Henri Lloyd and Sprayway and Mark & Spencers creck neck lambswool sweaters and Clarks shoes and Dunne & Co cardies and harris tweed jackets and generated the entire Adidas classics boom of the past 20 years.

To make the claim that ‘working class shoppers are putting aside their image of toff chic and making it their own’ is not only insulting but inaccurate. I’m working class, I have a few Barbours in my wardrobe, I don’t have an image of toff chic and I’m not making the brand my own. I just wear them because they’re lovely coats, under–stated, practical, enduring. Ofcourse now that they’ve become ‘hip’ with the ‘hipster’ crowd, I’m moving onto Crojack.

Is that engaged enough mate?

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One Comment
  1. required (postingtons) permalink

    Thanks for this wonderfully written article. Though it brought back the horrific memory of me ma shrinking me M&S beige lambswool in 83. She somehow managed to shrink it in only one direction, which I’m sure probably involves some innate ability. Arms and width were sound but neck to waist became an utterly depressing 10 inches max ! Not sure that the words “utterly depressing 10 inches” are used too often in that order. Thanks again for giving me a knowing smile

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